BRIDGE-BUILDERS—Three generations of clergy elders in the Horton family meet in a precious moment during the ordination of Elizabeth Horton-Ware on May 31 at OKC-St. Luke’s. Encircling her are Don Horton, her grandfather; Chuck Horton, her father; Chuck Nordean; Judy Benson; and Bishop Hayes, placing his hands upon her head.
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By Holly McCray
This accounting of the 2011 Annual Conference mimics a paint-by-numbers art project. Numbers are central to crafting the story of our United Methodist gathering on May 29-June 1 in Oklahoma City.
The theme was "The Plan—A Bridge to the Future."
This story starts with financial numbers.
The 2012 Apportionment to the local churches will rise by 0.9 percent, to $16,674,647, as approved by the Annual Conference on June 1. That’s an increase of about $140,000 from this year’s needs.
This represents excellent stewardship of the monies given by the local churches for the broader work of United Methodism. However, Oklahoma Conference’s financial leaders cautioned laity and clergy at the statewide meeting. Make note also of other numbers, they urged from both the speaker’s podium and in video presentations.
"You’re going to want to pay attention," said Tom Harrison, who chairs the Council on Finance & Administration (CF&A). He pointed to the line item "Health Benefits Fund (Church Portion)."
"This is $140,000. This is where all the increase comes from for next year," said Rev. Dr. Harrison. He has tracked the rise in that line-item amount over several years. For 2012, it totals $4.8 million.
"This is unsustainable; 29 percent of the Conference budget goes to this item."
Accompanying the Church Portion increase, monthly insurance premiums will rise 6 percent in January for the portion of the health fund paid by individuals/families.
Unsustainable. Be warned; that word does not apply only to health-care costs. Pair it with the term death tsunami, describing the impact of the aging baby-boomer population upon all U.S. resources.
CF&A aired a denominational video that sucked all sound from the Annual Conference audience in the Freede Center at Oklahoma City University. On the screen, statistics plotted a continuing decline for United Methodism in the United States.
"In 2018, the resources we have had will begin to decline and will continue to do so for 50 years," Harrison said. "The General Conference, the Council on Bishops, the Jurisdictional Conferences are going to be making changes. This Annual Conference is going to have to make some changes."
He continued, "I want you delegates to know this is on our table and we are working on it." Harrison emphasized the importance of acting now by sharing his story as a cancer survivor. Early detection was key to successful treatment for him.
"The CF&A is working on early detection," he said. "We are Resurrection people."
His report echoed statements May 30 by Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. in his Episcopal Address and Judy Benson in her speech as Conference Lay Leader. They noted the meeting’s theme: "The Plan—A Bridge to the Future." Both pointed to the denomination’s Call to Action plan issued late last year. They serve, respectively, on the Council of Bishops and The Connectional Table.
Bishop Hayes said bridge-builders in the Oklahoma Conference began implementing our Strategic Plan three years earlier.
"We know what we need to do!" Hayes declared. "I call on every delegate. Go back to your respective congregations determined to address questions (such as) ‘Are we building bridges to the future?’ This is our time to commit ourselves to ministry that is relevant and vital."
He said, "I pray you understand the urgency for each church. Glean ideas from the exemplary work of other congregations; employ best practices; call upon the Ministry Teams and staff of our Conference to assist."
Encouraging numbers surfaced in the reports by those teams and staff.
An update on two new congregations in Edmond was given by Craig Stinson, director of Congregational Development/Connectional Ministries. Both Connect UMC, led by Adam Ricks, and Summit UMC, with Allen Buck, are averaging more than 100 people in initial worship services. Rev. Ricks reports five professions of faith recently.
Cross Timbers UMC, in Moore, averages 97 in attendance. Only 2 years old, the church reports 73 professions of faith. Pastor is Chris Dodson.
"Almost a decade ago, we planted four new churches," Rev. Stinson said. "On an average Sunday, Acts 2 (Edmond) has 407 in attendance, Abiding Harvest (Broken Arrow) has 304, Bridgeview (Norman) has 96, and Edmond Chinese International has 135. These four churches have had 442 professions of faith!"
The Conference initially invested about $600,000 overall in those four.
"These churches have contributed almost $1,000,000 in Apportionments," Stinson said, "and Edmond Chinese International UMC paid its 2010 Apportionments in full by August."
Throughout the meeting, multiple communication technologies enhanced the business and worship.
Live streaming enabled Internet users to watch all the Annual Conference. A total of 1,128 unique Internet Protocol addresses was counted. (One IP address can cover a network of computers and, thus, multiple users.)
Global live-stream visitors included people in the Middle East, the Philippines, Mexico, Italy, and Denmark. The highest total of virtual views occurred during the Service of Ordination. Meeting updates were posted on Facebook and Twitter.
For the live audiences at St. Luke’s and OCU, multiple big screens featured 45 multimedia presentations (39 DVDs and seven PowerPoints). Go to www.okumc.org/okvideo to access many of them now.
Hand-held digital voting devices, too, helped the Annual Conference accomplish its work in record time.
In past years, the conference opened Sunday night and often extended into Thursday afternoon. Last year, that timeframe was reduced to Sunday-Wednesday. This year, planners faced a new challenge for that shortened schedule.
They had to make time for the election of a 44-member delegation to the 2012 General/Jurisdictional Conferences. These elections take place every four years.
They planned that voting for Monday. The first balloting round was in early afternoon. A Monday evening session, beginning at 6:30, was dedicated to complete the elections. Some people guessed balloting would last beyond midnight.
By 9:15 p.m., voting was complete. The electronic process made the results of each ballot almost instantaneous.
Conference Secretary Joe Harris said, "The use of voting devices made each delegate confident his or her votes were counted properly, and went a long way in helping the effectiveness and efficiency of our voting process."
The Annual Conference adjourned about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The elections were historic. For the first time, two women will lead the delegation: Lay Leader Judy Benson and Linda Harker, new pastor at McFarlin UMC in Norman.
Also in the group are father-daughter pair Wade and Nikola Paschal, mother-son duo Sharri and John Hiller, and brothers Bill and Tom Junk.
The Annual Conference approved a call to civility, which states in part: "We call upon all United Methodists to act as agents of peace, tolerance, and mutual respect of all persons."
Among other resolutions approved were new policies for short-term mission service and an agreement that the annual meeting will be permanently centered in the state, in Oklahoma City, beginning in 2013.
The Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation received $9.9 million in contributions in 2010, according to its Annual Report. Total assets were $167.6 million at year’s end. The Foundation distributed more than $12 million to work in ministries.
"The Foundation is a partner and a resource to the local church," said President Bill Junk. "If the Foundation grows larger and stronger yet the Church grows weaker and smaller, have we succeeded? No. We have the call to help the local church."
The EQUIP program, which includes Financial Peace University (FPU), is another way the Foundation answers that call. Junk said more than 100 FPU classes were offered in churches last year; almost 1,000 families completed the 13-week course.
The annual Volunteers In Mission emergency supply drive collected about 300 five-gallon buckets filled with cleaning supplies, and a generous number of kits with other supplies, for UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). The gifts filled a 16-foot delivery truck plus another half-load.
The Annual Conference Special Offering totaled $48,763.99, as of June 8, for three mission projects: partnership work with The Methodist Church of Bolivia, an elementary school in Liberia, and the Cookson Hills Center near Tahlequah.
As the meeting concluded, an additional $6,661 was collected for UM tornado relief work in Oklahoma.
Beginning next year, Mother’s Day is designated as a Special Sunday on the Oklahoma Conference calendar. "Senior Living Ministries Sunday" will debut May 13, 2012. The offering supports UM retirement communities and nursing homes in the state. Gifts can be given at any time of year.
July 21-24—"United Methodism in the Land of Many Cultures: Native American and Latino History," General Commission on Archives & History Convocation. Hosted at OCU by the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conferences; contact archivist Christina Wolf, 405-208-5919.
July 30—Contest deadline for Health Benefits Fund participants to complete the online Blue Cross Blue Shield health risk assessment.
Aug 6—Evangelism task group presents "Am I Called to Share My Faith?" at Ardmore-First.
Oct. 8—Board of Laity presents "Options/Obligations of an Effective Servant Leader," a free workshop at the OCU Meinders School of Business.
Oct 10-15—"Enlivening Worship and Music in the Small Church," six regional locations.
Note these numbers, too
More than 50 churches received All-Star mission awards, a new honor from the Mission & Service Ministry Team.
Three churches were closed: Caddo, Lawton-Wesley, and Lawton-Grace.
(Watch for more Annual Conference news, including award presentations, in the July 8 issue of Contact.)